Cheerful Helpers staff started off this year with a recommitment to keeping our students safe. On a sunny afternoon in January, we were joined on site by experienced trainers Jordan and Tony from Handle With Care (HWC). HWC offers specialized trainings for verbally de-escalating big feelings, decreasing tension in hard moments, and helping to understand what our students need. The afternoon was a resounding success. Teachers and clinicians had the opportunity to learn all about the key elements of helping a child stay in the green zone, the range of feelings that feel safe and regulated, and moderate their own distress when it does arise. Our instructors taught us how to make sure our kids are never overwhelmed by the presence of grown-ups trying to assist, and are always physically safe, ensuring that they experience the adult helping them as a reliable, empathetic, encouraging ally during difficult times.
HWC is the gold standard for de-escalation and safety trainings in schools in the US. For more than thirty years, the project has offered trainings specifically for schools and for staff supporting young children. We were also very lucky to have trainers that had been teaching HWC principles and methods for decades, and who were intimately familiar with its philosophy. Jordan and Tony carefully explained HWC’s values and priorities, which are also those of Cheerful Helpers: we always act in the best interests of our students, and do everything we can to create a universal perception of physical and psychological safety at school. Crucially, as teachers and clinicians, we remain alert, prompt, and skillful any time we need to be close to a child, and we remain in control of our own emotions.
One concept that deeply resonated with many CH staff was the idea of becoming a “solid object” for our kids. A solid object is an adult trusted figure for the child who is the child’s ‘rock’ in times of crisis. Solid objects are consistent with their support across days and moments, respectful, authentic, curious, non-reactive, and stay with the child emotionally and physically until a hard moment has passed. This helps to foster connection and a sense of deep safety. Children will know that even if they feel out of control, a trusted and steady grown-up who cares about them is there to make sure nothing serious happens. We also learned a few very gentle ways of blocking small fists, and of stabilizing bodies that might be leaning, falling, or moving too fast by using our bodies as a firm surface.
This year’s training was a wonderful experience for all our staff. “Handle with Care transformed my perspective on how to help our little guys best with connection and building strong therapeutic relationships,” says Carolina Maranian, a first-year MSW intern and helper in Erin’s class. Our instructors were engaged, affirming, and meticulous, which made all the difference. “The training was incredibly helpful in my understanding of keeping kids safe, and the instructors were engaging, friendly, and thorough,” shared Tatum Schwartz, also a first-year MSW intern starting out at Cheerful Helpers this month. Taryn Cantorez, an LMFT/LPCC trainee, felt that the training made them “much more confident on how to work with kiddos in crisis”. We look forward to this time next year, when we will retrain in Handle with Care principles and continue becoming the best staff we can be!